OFF THE BEAT: Better re(a)d than dead

katie.nelson

Essays are a funny thing. As to why people enjoy writing them so much, I will never know.

Essays from my youth were the standard — 5 paragraphs. Just think of it as a hamburger, I was once told — bun, meat, lettuce, tomato, what have you. Deviation from that formula was pain of death or a low SAT score. It simply wasn’t done. You were bound and gagged to customary compositions — and you were going to like it.

But upon entering UC Berkeley, it was clear that the written word became a whole new ballgame. My first English syllabus alone was a five page essay on the analysis of the breakdown of the class containing words I had never seen or heard before. Frantic, I highlighted every word and phrase and made such careful notations on what exactly the professor was talking about.

And when I actually took time to review what I had written down later that day, nothing was legible.

My first college essay was disastrous to say the least. I saw my GSI every time he held office hours. I would walk in, thinking I had made remarkable improvements to my previous draft, and without fail that man would make my paper look as if it were weeping blood every time I walked out of the office. I hated him for it initially — in the end he was just trying to break me of a bad habit.

I was uncharacteristically glued to the concept of the five paragraph essay. To be instructed by my professor that we were to be “creative” on our analytical essays was something so foreign to me I clearly remember hearing giggles in the room from fellow students who sympathized with my confusion. Creative analysis — that’s an oxymoron right? Was this woman serious?

Yes, she was very serious.

It took 10 professors and three years to break me of my horrible ways. I am fairly certain more red pens tragically succumbed to the improvement of my papers at Cal than any other work of substance written in the last four years.

And yes, I am sure I am not the only one who can say I resented it for a time. I dare say I still do and I slightly cringe every time someone whips out a red pen to write, not necessarily to edit.

But then I realized that is what this school, these professors and your peers are here for — to make you something more, something better. And like it or not, you take it and you deal. And at the end of the day, you begrudgingly say thank you.

Your mentality, your ideas, your ways of speaking, writing and reading will all inevitably be challenged and polished by a group of unprecedentedly astonishing frontrunners in areas of creative writing, literature and theory. Those that have championed language and the written word before you have taken the time to foster you and those around you to be the next generation of supposed geniuses. Professors, mentors and even friends have questioned, commented, criticized and congratulated you when something that started as just another paper became something incredibly empowering.

I find it somewhat ironic that I list these revelations to you now from something I submitted at the last possible minute — a habit many of us have learned to master. But what is even more amusing is that I truly enjoyed writing this because not only is it no longer a five paragraph essay, it was a way for me to reflect on what I have been able to gauge from my brief but breathtaking time at Cal. Seriously, I have never had so many panic attacks in my life.

I used to whimper when just one white blank page was placed in front of me and I was told that in three hours time, I had to produce something remarkable. I would tremble in fear and huddle in my chair in shame because I thought unless I was Thoreau or Plato, my words were meager attempts at something possibly profound.

Now, writing — and essays in particular — is not just a simple way to flush out ideas.

It is a ridiculous technique that has been mastered to expand on them to a point beyond all normal reason and then somehow bring the most tangential statements back into a glorious conclusion. It’s an art form, I tell ya.

And while we scratch our heads in bewilderment at how we stuttered through attempted essays and synopses just a few years ago, such things flow from our fingers like wine from the chalice. We have become principals of our practice, champions of our creativity and all-around graphomaniacs until the day we die.

And while we all bite our lips in submission and we enter another summer semester with inevitable essays to write, take it with pride because at the end of the day, you are one hell of a writer, essays and red pens be damned.

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